Does your partner complain about one of your longstanding habits? Perhaps you frequently interrupt others or spend excessive time focusing on your phone. Maybe you even agree, in private moments, that this is something that needs to change. Couples can get locked into power struggles over personal habits or ways of interacting that, if each were single, they’d work to address. Yet, often defensive of personal habit criticism by a partner, it feels like a defeat somehow to acknowledge to a partner the need to change.
Even as adults we can get ensnared in teenage-style dynamics with a spouse. Stubbornly maintaining a stance just to oppose your partner is not good for you, your partner, or the relationship as a whole. This constitutes a negative dependency, wherein an individual uses a nagging spouse as a way to avoid addressing a personal challenge. It’s an unhelpful way of behaving for both people (and it definitely takes two to play out these dynamics!) and it’s especially unhelpful for building and maintaining a healthy relationship.
These situations require a shift in thinking. A relationship is not a series of contests. It cannot thrive when a strategy of defense, denial, or individual entitlement is more important than the relationship itself. We have a responsibility to be our best selves, even when feeling criticized or encouraged to give up something by our partner.
- Keep a personal improvement journal. Jot down ideas about life goals. Challenge yourself to keep the focus off your partner and on yourself.
- Create a mantra. Write or say your mantra once a day to counteract ways in which you feel controlled or criticized. For example, “Robert urges me to eat well and go to the gym because he wants me to live a long life so we can grow old together!”
- Avoid keeping score. Just being aware of your behavior during arguments can help. Are you listening and empathizing with your partner’s concerns about your habits? Look at the deeper meanings of “control” and discuss them with your partner.